When is it valid to call some place a “Sh–hole?”

“These people get to live here.”

I was biking in rural Uganda, somewhere between Kampala and the Kenyan border. This was the first day of cycling on the Ride for Hope excursion, and we were working our way south through 600 miles of East Africa to our destination in Tanzania. For the most part we stayed away from major highways and instead chose the dirt back roads in favor of less traffic.

I’ve traveled all over America in addition to several other countries in Europe and Asia. But I had never seen anything quite like this.

It was mountainous, for sure. We would bike up a massive hill and then fly right down. I was amateur at best, surrounded by some pretty experienced African and Dutch cyclists. It was a bit nerve-racking at first going speeds I had never done before while riding a hand-crafted, state-of-the-art bamboo bicycle that seemed like a magic carpet more than anything else.

It was exhilarating. 

Sometimes, I’ll admit, I screamed a little in raw delight at what I was getting to experience. During one particular moment while speeding down a hill I kept looking all around me at the lush, vast scenery of southern Uganda, simply gaping. I knew I needed to ride, but I also wanted to stare. It was so wonderfully distracting.

There were several people out in the fields harvesting, and I passed a women walking up the hill carrying a basket on her head.

That’s when I exclaimed aloud to myself,

“These people get to live here.”

There was nothing modern about our ride that first day. Most of the villages we passed through were primitive in make-up, a lot of huts and mud buildings.

But primitive in possessions does not automatically translate to primitive in character and humanity.

I got to experience this character and humanity first-hand in a rather unexpected and slightly embarrassing way.

So here’s the story: for the first time in all my travels, I got travelers diarrhea during our first day of riding.

Yep, I just went there.

You see, there are some things in life you can power through and just tough it out.

Diarrhea is not one of them.

Before my pills kicked in, I had to get some assistance twice from the local residents. I know I’d really like to sound sophisticated about this, but in reality it was pure desperation, a plea for help.

Both times me and my Ugandan teammate approached women cooking in front of their homes and explained that this mzungu, this white girl, desperately needed some sort of bathroom facility.

Both times the women simply looked at me and motioned for me to follow. I was then ushered to an outhouse.

I have NEVER been so grateful in my entire life. And I am not exaggerating. In the moment, it felt like a life or death necessity. Just… trust me.

I remember reflecting on that later, recounting the humanity of it all.

I was obviously an outsider. I couldn’t communicate coherently with those that owned the land. I also had nothing to offer to deserve some sort of help or assistance.

I was at their disposal. I was dependent on their help. I was needy.

But more than that, I was also dependent and reliant on their character and philosophy about humanity. I really hoped that they believed that when one person is in a desperate situation and they had a solution to that need, that they would stand in the gap to meet that need.

What I learned was that at the end of the day, we are all the same. If someone needs a bathroom due to a basic bodily function but can’t access one, and I have access to a bathroom that you don’t, then of course you can use my bathroom. Because I use my bathroom too when I need to access it.

Why would those ladies allow me to use their own possessions?

I think it’s because they intrinsically believed I was human as much as they were. 

But I think even more-so it attests to what they chose not to believe: they didn’t believe they were superior to me. If they did believe they were superior to me, then logically they couldn’t have let me use their bathroom.

That’s simply what people do who believe they are more superior than other people — those “other” people can’t come into their space or in any sort of way be affiliated with them.

Should we defend people or countries that are degraded as “Sh–holes?”

Should I?

I have a plethora of African friends who I love. And Haitians. And Mexicans. And Indians. I’ve also visited several of these areas and got to know people on a very local level.

So my first response is to defend against the audacious claim, to use all the examples I can to prove that these people and these countries are emphatically not despicable places. Let me tell you about this person, and that experience, and that beautiful view, and that community.

But I soon found myself out of breath and angry for quite frankly no reason.

I realized, Africa doesn’t need to be defended.

What should be challenged are beliefs of superiority. 

Do I have a right to call people or places derogatory names?

Now let’s be completely honest here. I’ve had some experiences and seen some places where the reality of it made me want to feverishly swear off everybody involved. When I dived off the deep end and starting learning about the reality of human trafficking, and especially sex trafficking, I was exposed to some deep, dark things.

The amount of violence and dehumanization is vile. It’s the most gross aspects of humanity on display.

I’ve been in the brothel in India and passed men in the stairway as they went in search of their next woman or girl to buy. I’ve been in the strip club to give support to the women and watched the men and owners and bouncers exploit and reduce the females to what their bodies had to offer. I’ve been in China and observed a woman, acting as a pimp, entreat a man in our group to get a “massage” from a young, beautiful girl nearby. I’ve been in the poor communities of Mombasa, Kenya and observed wealthy European men buying poor women and girls for sex and girlfriend experiences during their vacations.

I could totally justify calling those users and perpetrators of violence a wealth of derogatory names, and I have felt it on the tip of my tongue as I often had to helplessly observe, knowing my intervention at that moment was impossible.

But I’ve come to learn that they only way I could look at those people in the eye and say, “You f–ing bastard,” is to believe inherently that I am better than they are. That I would never act in a manner that they would. That I am a completely different species of a human than they could ever be.

In that place, in a mindset of better-than, different-from, if I was given the power, I could actually justify anything.

Slurs. Violence. Destructive power. Nothing would be too much, because they are not real humans anymore.

That’s the hard part about grace. About mercy. That while I seek for justice, I must also cloak myself in mercy and humility, knowing that I am capable of just as much evil as the next person had my life circumstances or choices been different.

Does that mean practitioners of evil should get away with their acts of violence?

No. Absolutely not.

The point is that deep-set beliefs about superiority, no matter how justified, give unfettered license for malevolence.

If you want to lead, you can’t speak slurs about others.

Shouldn’t those who enact and disperse justice from a place of power be held to a standard of equitable humanity?

Sure, people will always exist that hate and use demeaning language to describe their beliefs about others. But those people should be confined and restrained from having access to any sort of power. They shouldn’t be voted into office.

And if you justify voting those kind of people into leadership because they have tax or healthcare or financial political views that align with yours, then are you not inherently saying that money has greater value to you then treatment of human beings? Or, worse yet, perhaps you really are alright with human beings being degraded because they are “other” than you?

Sounds like superiority to me.

If our leaders who have exclusive access to the use of coercive power in our neighborhoods, cities, states, and nations are not checked to a moral standard that believes we are all equal, then none of us are safe.

Yes, even you are not safe. Even if you assume that right now you are not in the category of sh–hole.

Because one day that belief of superiority might turn against you as well.

But, better yet, more than pursuing leadership in your life that will ultimately keep you safe, why not pursue leadership that strives to ultimately keep everybody safe?

And if you struggle with accepting that statement, perhaps ask yourself the question, “Why do I think that I deserve safety over someone else?”

And to circle back, if you needed illustrations that Africa is actually a really nice place and has really kind people because all your life you have only heard that it’s a scary place that has lots of wars and seems violent, then maybe you need to accept the reality that you may not know the full story and that there’s so much about the world that you don’t understand?


You still have a chance. You can still spend time with people and do more research and traveling to expand your horizons that is also coupled with humility that maybe your world is not better than everyone else’s.

Maybe we need more humility that sits down with someone of a different color or country or ethnicity and asks them, “Tell me what I don’t know that you wish I did know.”

Then we may come to the conclusion that we are the same kind of different.

The Lost Girls of Mombasa

All of my senses became alert, suddenly.

I sat upright, peered in wonder, the type of wonder that makes you feel sick to your stomach. A sharp intake of breath, like you’ve been punched in the gut.

It was all too familiar. But not in the way one is familiar with something from experience. But more so from research, from documentaries, from second-hand experiences.

All the signs were there.

Older white male. Younger African female.

Abnormal outward affection.

Flirting minus the depth of relationship.

Male dressed average, female dressed lavishly and provocatively.

The location being international-based versus local-based.

Forgetting what client project I was currently working on, I stared at this couple across the cafe, watching his advances, her reactions. Like a train wreck, you want to look away, but you just can’t.

Then I noticed. . .

A second couple.

Then a third.

Then a fourth.

That’s when the shock hit me, making my heart freeze.

I had found myself sitting in a hub of sex buyers and prostitutes.

And I didn’t even know it. I had literally “stumbled upon” this standard European-type cafe in search of good wifi to do some work. But this international-comfortable spot seemed to also attract all tourists– including those who came to specifically take part of sex tourism in Mombasa.

You see, there’s a thing in sex tourism called the “Girlfriend Experience.” Buyers from around the world, especially from wealthy Western countries, come to tourist spots that have a supply of women and girls who are inexpensive for purchase.

Inexpensive, in that the girls and their families have been living in the cycle of poverty around that tourist city and have few options for income.

Inexpensive, in that she lives on $1 a day, so to charge even just $20 a night to cater to his sexual desires is highly profitable.

Purchase, in that he uses money to bribe consent, which, non-surprisingly, is not actually consent given that she wouldn’t ever have sex with him if he didn’t offer the money and if she didn’t desperately need it.

Purchase, in that she is no longer a living, breathing human, but is instead a usable, itemized object with a fluctuating valuation.

What I had researched before was just data and statistics. Now it was faces.

“Come to Mombasa! Not only can to enjoy the beauty of the beaches and the coast, but you can also buy yourself a girlfriend for the duration of your stay. Any age desired!”

Any age desired?

I saw adults that night in the cafe, but do they also buy girls?

You mean, little girls? Elementary age girls?


It was last year, sometime in May 2016.

I had attended a Compassion Experience event in Chicago near the west side. I had been sponsoring a 4 year old girl through Compassion for about 6 months at this time, and it seemed that this “Experience” event would allow me to see her world and understand the stories that these children have.

In the Experience you enter a series of rooms while listening to a tour on an iPod. It’s kind of a micro version of a walking tour in a museum. A child is telling you their story about life in poverty, a life marred by dependency, scarcity, and incapacity, where material and relational needs are at a loss.  Then you discover how they got into the Compassion program and how their lives have changed and developed as a result of that program.

It was fascinating and I definitely felt more connected to the work of Compassion and my own child.

Afterwards I talked with one of staff who was standing in front of wall of photographs — all children that needed to be sponsored. I knew my budget and that I probably couldn’t afford to sponsor another one at that time. But I looked a wall of girls from Kenya, and I noticed several “older” girls — girls over 12 years old. On certain cards there were notes that their home areas were at high risk of HIV and trafficking.

I knew that fact all too well. In Chicago itself the entry age of prostitution is 12 years old. Entry age. That means if you see an adult street prostitute outside, you can safely bet that she was exploited, trafficked, around the age of puberty. So I could only imagine how much worse the statistics were in developing countries.

As I left that day, those photos stuck in my mind. While biking downtown to a meeting a few days later, God brought it back to mind very clearly, and I started praying for those girls, the vulnerable ones.

Immediately after my meeting I received an email that was titled, “Sponsor an older child today,” and it had a picture of a girl from Kenya named Jane. I immediately knew she was special. In a moment of complete instinct and vulnerability, I replied to sponsor her.

I had no idea at the time, but, as you’ll find out, I’m so glad I did.

What’s going on in Mombasa?

She lives just north of Mombasa in a town called Mtwapa. I did some brief research on the area so I had some context in which to add to our letters. But I didn’t give it too much thought after that.

Except for 6 months later.

I follow a human trafficking forum where articles and research are posted from communities all over the world. I noticed that one in particular talked about Mombasa. Of course my interest was piqued, so I started reading.

And the shocking truths emerged.

“Almost a third of girls age 12 and younger in the Mombasa region were involved in prostitution.”

“Trace Kenya, a local nonprofit group that works with the United Nations to battle child trafficking, estimates there could be as many as 100,000 child sex workers in Mombasa.”

“Many come to the city in search of girls aged between 12 and 18. The industry has made Kenya one of the world’s hubs for child sex tourism.”

“Emily, a 16-year-old orphan, said she was forced into the business due to poverty and peer pressure. Her aunt encouraged her to engage in sex with white men to help pay family expenses. Emily is now infected with HIV.”

This deeply troubled me. And then I took note of Trace Kenya, and found that they were headquartered in a town north of Mombasa that they considered the main hot spot for child sex trafficking.

That town? Mtwapa. The same town Jane lived in.

My heart went to my throat. Though I research often, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. And she could easily be one of these statistics.

But it couldn’t be — that couldn’t happen to her, right? I mean, I know her name, her face, her hobbies, her favorite school subjects — she’s just a little girl, not a target for prostitution.

Yet I knew, when poverty and sex tourism collide, the most vulnerable of our communities will always lose.

Who are those?

Our children, our girls.

While visiting East Africa last month, I was able to find some time to visit Mombasa for a few days. I spent an entire day with Jane and her friends at the Compassion center in Mtwapa. Since I wanted to be centrally located, I got a hotel in Mtwapa as well. Obviously, I already knew the research before going, so I wanted to observe as much as I could, but I figured it would be from a safe distance as this wasn’t a dedicated “human trafficking research trip”.

View of Mtwapa from my hotel room

My time with Jane and her friends was about as fun and joyous as I could’ve imagined. Though they were all coming from families of poverty, they didn’t have a poverty spirit. Instead, there was a spirit of abundance and fullness and honor.

That’s how you know a poverty-alleviating organization is succeeding. When those they serve are relationally restored to understanding their identity and gifting as an individual, as a creation of God.

I visiting her home and spent time with her mother and siblings. I loved interacting with them, being welcomed into their home, meeting the community.

But, almost unwanted, the thoughts stirred in the back of my mind: “Are any of these the girls of Mtwapa part of that statistic? One of the 100,000? At nights do pimps come to recruit them to sell to nearby tourists? Are there seriously no other options?”

Too many questions, and none that I wanted to deal with as I held hands with the children as they led me singing through the dirt streets between the homes.

The “Hot Spot” Cafe

It was that very evening that I was in the cafe doing work for my clients when I noticed my disturbing surroundings. This was a nice mall in the Mtwapa/Mombasa area, and apparently one that attracted foreigners. I went there the following night as well, and the same exact scenario repeated itself. I sighed. This is “normal.”

It was quite a helpless feeling to sit on the sidelines and observe the objectification of these women, knowing very well the trauma they live through each day they are in this industry. Seriously — imagine experiencing sexual harassment in a vile form at work (which most of us women have experienced). It causes trauma and many women have to go through therapy after just one experience. It’s such a big deal that our government created laws against it to protect us.

Now imagine that’s your job. Your job is to experience sexual harassment and assault and abuse every single day. And pretend that you want to be there. Because if you didn’t you wouldn’t have any means of survival, you wouldn’t be able to feed your family, you wouldn’t be able to pay for a roof over your head.

Since I was typically in the cafe for several hours, I saw couples come and go, and would often try to catch the eyes of the women as they walked past me. I felt like the only thing I could offer was a smile, a gesture of kindness, a show of non-judgment, a look of solidarity.

But I was never able to. I recall one woman in specific, in her high heels and fancy clothes, a time that most women may feel like shining and standing out, yet for her was a walk of shame. She never looked up, only stared at the ground as she passed by. It was such an absence of joy.

Prostitution, trafficking, selling of bodies — it all steals the soul, sucks the life out, and leaves behind the shell of a person.

This is not what the Image of God was made for.

Each of us was uniquely crafted before birth with a specific purpose, gifting, calling, and destiny. And above all, we were made to love and be loved.

Anything less then that is not meant to be. Using another person, especially in an explicitly sexual way, distorts and destroys the Image of God on that person.

We were made for so much more.

And not just for the American girls like myself who got to attend private school her entire life, graduate from college, and find consistent employment. The same respect and honor is due in parallel form to girls like Jane, who may not externally have the same earthly privileges and wealth. But the Image of God is just as strong in her.

Both Image of God bearers, both deserving of honor and opportunity

There is no place to choose which women we get to use, and which ones we don’t.

We’re all equal. We’re all valuable.

Is there an answer?

Is there? That’s the question. I sat there that night really unsure of what I’m supposed to do with this new, personal experience and information.

As I’ve been mulling it over, there are a few practical suggestions I can make.

Sponsor a child in poverty

I’ve met some amazing organizations like Compassion and Christ’s Hope International. I’ve seen first hand how these models work. And you just never know how much impact that $36 a month will have, that you may literally be saving a little girl from sexual exploitation. Is there a promise that every child sponsored won’t end up falling into the snare of exploitation? No, which is why prayer and encouragement are so vital. Those consistent positive voices of advocates in their lives are often lifelines of hope to keep them on the paths of hope and purpose.

Support your local anti-trafficking organization

The awareness of this problem is much stronger now than it used to be, and most cities in America have some sort of chapter or organization that deal with human trafficking in one form or another. Just Google it and be open to serving (and learning!) however necessary. If you need any recommendations of where to start, let me know in the comments and I’ll share any contacts or connections I may have.

Learn and share and pray

As you can see, those 100,000 girls in Mtwapa may not be as high in demand if it weren’t for the sex tourism from the wealthy Westerners that visit. Guess where those men came from? Probably your country, probably America. We need to admit that we are part of the problem of little girls being exploited in Mombasa because we endorse and celebrate the sexualization of women here in America. That creates the “demand,” the need for women to fulfill sexual desires on-demand.

We have to deal with the issue of “demand,” that until our culture mindset changes and our men stop viewing certain kinds of women and girls as objects for sexual gratification (prostitution, strip clubs, pornography, rape), then the problem will never go away. It’s both a local and international issue. But although we are all apart of the problem (yes, us all), we can also be apart of the solution. That solution will not come without humility, brokenness, and weighty amounts of prayer.

Keep praying, keep learning, keep sharing, keep repenting, keep forgiving, keep honoring . . . repeat, repeat, repeat.

Compassion is a currency that must be cashed.

I’d prefer something a little more explainable.

You know, a story that aligns just right, it makes complete sense to just about every listener, and one would respond simply, “Well, that certainly sounds reasonable.”

Reasonable. Explainable. Correct.

None of those words really describe the path of my life, much less this Ride for Hope I’m doing in a week in East Africa.

You see, I’d prefer to tell you a story about how it all came together in a really clean, factual manner. And most of all, that I wouldn’t have to share my vulnerability.

The compassion. The joy. The heart break. The love.

Those words, the feelings? Ah, so very un-reason-able.

It may sound odd now looking back, but I felt so exposed about it all, I really didn’t want to talk about it. But I mean, c’mon, how can one hide the fact that you’re going to be biking 600 miles around Lake Victoria in East Africa and you have to raise $12,000 in the process?

Seems like at some point the truth had to come out.

The truth? The why?

There was a riot in my heart.

And I gave in. I let myself feel. And feel it all.

A story from Christ’s Hope International

David from Christ’s Hope was sharing at a local networking event about the work being done to support orphans affected by AIDS in sub-Sahara Africa. To be clear, not the first time I’ve heard of this kind of courageous non-profit work. But he leaned in deeper and shared a moving story that had happened recently through one of the CarePoint centers.

They needed to find a home for a young girl that had lost both of her parents. In their model, they don’t place them in orphanages, but instead put the children in relatives’ homes to support them from there.

Problem was, the only living relative of this girl was a prostitute.

A prostitute.

A word I’m familiar with. A people that I know. A term that could better be described as, “one who is used up sexually due to her need and loss.”

Her power stripped away, there is only the bait of money that keeps her in the business. There’s no consent; only a survival bribe.

But it never truly pays off. Sure, bills may be paid, but the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual debt is carved deeper and deeper into her soul.

This was not who she was made to be.

Then to add more burden, she now has a child under her roof. Not only may this demand significant extra energy and resources, but the girl herself is now extra vulnerable to the sex industry due to proximity. A potential for disaster.

Can I explain to you how much hope is not present in this situation? When you are a prostitute, that is your life, and the way out seems nearly impossible. We see it all the time at New Name. Which is why we don’t measure results, but instead focus on love. The opposition is real, and the way is hard.

Which is why the next part of the story gripped my heart.

This little girl began attending the CarePoint Center through the non-profit. There she found care for her body, mind, and soul. She grew and developed, and even begin taking her child-like faith with her into all parts of her life.

Including at home. And including into the thoughts and heart of her aunt.

Because when you find peace and joy and love, you can’t hide it. It just overflows.

Over time, day by day, word by word, this aunt heard the story of Jesus and the power of the cross from the lips of child. And there was hope — finally, hope — in that.

Hope that Someone accepted her, saw her, loved her, embraced her.

And he loves her because he loves her because he loves her.

When you live a life of constant misuse, it’s hard to believe that someone would actually love you without you doing anything to for it. It’s free, so very free. So unbelievable. It simply must be miraculous.

This is the part of the story that I want to see in detail someday. The moment that Jesus completely breaks her chains that have bound her to prostitution and set her free. It instantly brought to mind the song Alabaster Box, when CeCe Winans sings about Mary, a former prostitute, breaking her whole life and alabastor box at the feet of Jesus, and testifying to others,

“You weren’t there the night he found me, you did not feel what I felt when he wrapped his loving arms around me. You don’t know the cost of the oil in my alabaster box.”

It was that moment in the story I felt all the emotions at once.

A riot in the soul.

Tears came down my eyes without thought, the weight and miracle of it all was so heavy. We pray for years for some of our women to break out of the life. And now look how God used the testimonial of a little orphaned girl.

Though in reality, she is not little, and not orphaned. She is a daughter of the most high King! And in that place is power, unimaginable power.

That moment of intense inner feeling was immediately followed by, “And we are organizing the Ride for Hope around Lake Victoria in June of 2017. If there are any avid bicyclists out there, we invite you to join!”

At that moment Brian, who was sitting next to me, gives me a knowing look and says, “You doing that?” He knew I was training for the Chicago Triathlon. I immediately retorted, “I am not an avid bicyclist!”

And in that moment I knew I would be joining the team.

(*insert comment, “Well that escalated quickly!”*)

I didn’t realize it would be 600 miles. And I also didn’t totally register the reality I had to raise $12,000.

I just knew that I leaned into feeling my heart, and then did something about it.

And that makes me feel vulnerable. That I can’t really give a better explanation other than, “I cried. And felt so hard it hurt.”

Thank God for Justin Dillon and his recent appearance on the Chasing Justice podcast. Because he puts words to what I’ve wanted to say, but have never been able to describe when I’m trying to process through those intense heart riots I get every once in a while:

This feeling, while it’s not accomplishing something in the world, is accomplishing something in me. But this feeling is also a currency, and yet I don’t know where to spend it. It’s crazy when we have these intense feelings to change the world and we don’t know where to spend that currency. If we don’t spend it on something, that’s when it starts to create a debt in our soul. It creates a callousness and cynicism. Because we were made to fight injustice. That feeling came from the infinite and touched by our finite.

Yes. Yes it’s all true. The more I internalize the deepest feelings I experience, the more callous I become. I’ve felt that tension, because it’s also pretty uncomfortable to act out on those desires. But it sure does give me more joy.

Justin continues on to talk about our culture of “giving back.”

Giving back is saying, “I’m good. I’ve got enough. I’m going to give a little bit back.” But I don’t like what it’s saying about us. It’s void of meaning. Really what the world needs is not giving back, but giving in. It’s realizing, “There’s something in me greater than what’s against others.”

Giving in. It’s not pushing away the feelings. It’s giving in to them. And being ok with what it may cause you do to.

Because love makes you do crazy things. And often they don’t have logical explanations outside of, “I just really cared.”

But that, my friends, is the most logical, and most fulfilling, way to live life.

Crazy is normal to the wholehearted person.

Would you consider supporting me on for the Ride for Hope?

We are raising funds through the end of June 2017. Every little bit helps!

Visiting brothels in India

August 4, 2016

At 1:00am this morning I finally landed in Mumbai. And so the journey begins.

That was a good 8 months ago. I’m not exactly sure why I didn’t write a blog post giving a detailed account of my trip to India soon after I returned.

Perhaps some information is too heavy, some sights too indescribable — and not in a Grand Canyon kind of “indescribable” where you are overcome with awe and wonder. More so the loss of words to define things that are preciously and grippingly sober.

There are many blog posts telling of the plight of the poor and marginalized. Much social work can have a similar story, and often told from the perspective of the powerful ones. It may be “good power,” but it’s still weighty. Maybe sounding something like this:

There are people in the world who are mistreated (by my standards) and live in unfortunate states (by my standards) and we must change their story (to look more like mine) and I get to tell their story (from my perspective).

When interacting with those who survive under the crushing arm of injustice from evil power forces, it’s easy to saunter into that situation, and proclaim, “A new sheriff has arrived in town!” Thus kicking out the evil power who’s been forcing the poor to do what they want and enforcing a “just” process that requires new rules to be followed.

Often the only thing in common in these 2 scenarios is the fact that the poor always have choices made for them. They are simply the words and not actually the writers in their own story.

So thus my hesitation in relaying experiences and being the storyteller. These are real humans and they have incredible dignity.

Yes, injustices must have light shown on it. As partners in humanity we have the privilege of using our privileges to stand in the gap and be the bridge. Yet always keeping in mind the will and autonomy of the people we meet, allowing them to be apart of the process and representing them truthfully, humanly.

And there you have my light-hearted introduction!

Most of what I’m writing below I’m pulling from my journal during the trip, so you can be sure it will read like that. Any local names have been changed to protect identities.

Mumbai, India

Often I feel anxious and troubled, that the bad people are getting away with things, that if I love I will be mistreated. But God uses the panic in our lives to lead us up to the breakthrough. He makes the way.

“I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. He bends down to listen.” Psalm 116

I thought about this passage when I was praying for the women we would be meeting. He bends down to listen— he really does. He hears the cries and the woes of the women we meet. He knows their pain, even the pain they won’t acknowledge. He wants to set them free. This is my God. If I can pray his mercy and care over them, I must accept it as well over myself.

Entrance into India

The taxi ride from the airport to the hotel at 3:00am was interesting. I was the last of the team to arrive and had to find my way to the hotel on my own. My Hindi-speaking taxi driver didn’t know where the hotel was, so he asked a group of taxi drivers on the side of the street. Then he asked another group. And then the guys at the gate. At this point I thought I would never make it there. I finally pulled it up on Google maps and found that it wasn’t too far away— just a mile. So we puttered away in the tiny car that my legs didn’t really fit in, and was thankful for the cool post-rain breeze that gave relief to the humidity.

The next morning after breakfast, we sat in the lobby and waiting for Sela to come. She’s faithfully led the brothel outreach for over 20 years in a city several hours from Mumbai. I was pining to meet her. When she showed up, I wasn’t expecting someone so small! But you could feel her care and love right away. So welcoming and inviting. I knew she could be friends with anyone in a moment.

Mumbai was quite the interesting place, but at first I was so distracted by the crazy driving, close calls, bikes, motorcycles, people … it was chaos! But our driver evaded them all. That combined with driving on the opposite side of the street was some cause for stress at times.

Then I started looking at the city around me. So much dingy housing, shacks, trash, dirt, and just overall poverty. And it wasn’t just a section. It kept going and going. At first it was a shocking sight, but then I tried hard to imagine the life of these people and that this is their life and they have plenty of dignity. They work and have families and try to provide for them. Their housing is different from mine, but it doesn’t mean they need fixing.

I think it’s important to accept the difference up front so that you can enter any home and feel welcome, because it’s humans that make you feel welcome, not just a space.

We finally arrived at our hotel after about 3 hours of driving through the mountains. Many things to take in during the ride. Children peeing on the streets, trash and junk everywhere, a woman sitting on top of tiny food cart, the red third eye many people had, the colorful clothing the women wore, groups of people sitting together for lunch outside under shade, children coming home from school in their uniforms that looked very British-like, the mass amounts of people. So much to take in and observe.

My first brothel walk

Yesterday was riveting. Yet comforting as well. I have to keep reminding myself that we walked into brothels and that is not normal. Yet it seemed so normal. I always found myself at peace. Maybe that’s kingdom stuff. Maybe this is part of the progression for me. It began with drug camps 5 years ago, then drug aftercare homes, then homeless camps, then domestic violence victims, then strip clubs, then street prostitution, then massage parlors.  I guess going into a brothel wasn’t such a huge jump. And what I saw there was similar in many ways to what I’ve seen everywhere else: women that desperately need to be loved. People trapped in the grip of sin and exploitation. This is another place where the love of the Father gets to ride in and take over.

Sela led us through the large brothel district, armed with candy, hair accessories and beanie babies. The first group of ladies were on the side of the alley, three younger women that Nora later described as having such searing  pain in their eyes that it haunted her. We gave them hair clips and asked their names and told them how beautiful they were. When we came by later a man was talking to them, another customer.

We moved on to 2 women sitting against a wall. We said hello and they smiled. The one had such a pretty smile and was so tiny. We kept moving to a group of 4-5 women under the covering of the building. Across the street was a old brothel that had recently collapsed. Rubble was everywhere. These ladies were a bit older and after giving them chocolates we sat down and talked.

First asking names, then just listening, lots of picture taking. They loved to see themselves in the pictures. Then Sela talked with them and we sang Jesus Loves Me. That is when tears came to my eyes. Jesus loves them, no matter what. And the same is for me. We then laid hands on them and prayed, a together moment. So sweet. Afterwards the picture taking continued — they were so happy and one lady even started singing and dancing. We knew the fruit of Sela’s efforts over many years brought us to this point.

We walked around the corner into another brothel, this time going inside and sitting in the front room. The women gestured to us to sit on the seats and they sat on the floor on cardboard. They were so hospitable and even offered us tea. We gave the little boy there one of the beanie babies. Then we talked and Sela interpreted. They asked our names, what we do for a living, remarking on our features. One women sat on the other side and was a bit younger and looked very sad. There were about 6-7 women all together. Then eventually we sang again and went around and we all prayed. Then Sela prayed and also sang. She has such a beautiful voice. I was reminded again that I am here in another culture sitting accepted with prostitutes. Dirt never stopped Calvary blood. Later Sela told us that there were younger girls inside that we not allowed to come out. Many never leave their rooms and haven’t seen the light of day in years.

After lunch she took me and Katie to go into another large brothel house. We first stopped and talked with 2 women at the bottom. One was young and pregnant and she smiled so deeply at us. There was something in her eyes. Like a light and a hope and a plea for love and acceptance. She for some reason was so excited to see us but of course couldn’t relay that to us in English. We talked and communicated with hands. We found out she had 1 child and so we gave her a beanie baby. Then we prayed for both of them and saw tears in their eyes.

We moved on up the stairs. We walked up a total of 4 flights of stairs and saw room after room full  of women. On the first floor was much younger women who had a beautiful little girl. They weren’t open to prayer but they were still welcoming.

Then we moved up and I kept looking around at the little living rooms and bedrooms that had women after women. A true brothel house. We stopped into one room where a woman had been lying on the bed. Sela talked with her while we interacted with the little 6 year old boy who was taking our pictures. We prayed over her and then walked down the hall where there were 4 women in a kitchen watching TV. After talking briefly, Sela had us pray over them for healing. So I bent down and touched their knees and prayed as well. I want to see God’s miracles in body and soul. That he would heal their body and that they would thank him and it would lead them to Jesus who is the ultimate healer. Several of the women eyes were full of tears and we told them all God bless you and left.

While walking downstairs, it was obvious Sela knew many of the people. She would say ‘hi’ and the women would wave at us. We passed at least 4 men on our way down the stairs. It was hard to comprehend the realities they live under, that they can serve anywhere from 20-40 men a day.

The brothel children

One of my most poignant memories was the day we visited the brothel children daycare. Sela told us that when she first tried to connect with this Hindu-led daycare center, she was roughly pushed away. They hated her and the religion she represented.

But then, after months and years of persistence, she slowly gained their respect. They came to trust and love her. And invited her into the daycare to minister to the children. Soon, they started sending children to Sela’s salon in the brothel district to provide the children with clothing, toys, and prayer. It was an unlikely relationship, but a real one at that.

We walked up a staircase inside of what seemed a large empty building. At the top we were ushered into an area that had several rooms. We could hear children singing around the corner.

Sela brought us into an office where we met with one of the women in leadership. She brought in another women, a powerful Hindu lawyer, who apparently used to hate Sela, but eventually grew to respect her and now supports her work. She gave us a few guidelines and then brought us into the lesson room.

We sat down on benches in front of what had to be 30 children — all were less than 5 years old, some as young as even 1. They were so beautiful. This one girl in front of me to the right drew me in. Big brown eyes, the cutest dress, and full of baby-girl sweetness. She was probably 3 years old.

The teachers gave them some instructions, and then they started to sing with much gusto. Some of the songs we recognized the tunes — like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star — and others Indian children songs. It was a private performance for us!

Then we had a chance to sing for them. We stuck with a song we had sang several times before, a classic, Jesus Loves Me.

This I know. For the Bible tells me so.

Little ones to him belong. 

They are weak,

But he is strong.

My voice cut off at “Little ones” because of the weight of those words.

Of the most vulnerable little ones in the world, these are the ones.

And God sees them. They belong to him. They are loved.

But I can’t make it work in my mind. They live in brothels, often hiding under their mother’s bed during service to a customer. This life they are growing up in will probably be what they are enslaved in as well?

God, where is the Jesus Loves Them at this point? Do you? Where are you? Can you?

So many emotions. Proud of their performance. Inspired by their resilience. Gripped by their vulnerability. Grieved by the abuses they may suffer outside of this safe place.

Wanting to look away, but not able to.

This is why it’s hard to write about these stories. There’s not a happy ending. There’s not an easy solution. There’s no conclusion besides this:

“And then we left.”

Modern Day Hero

I met a modern day hero and champion while in India. Sela, an incredible woman of pure gold.

I wanted to sit and listen for hours on end about her perspectives and stories and rescues and struggle and battle. Stories of daring rescues and police hunts on their home door step; girls being locked in rooms for years on end, even up to 10 years in a case she knew about; a women being healed of her illness due to Sela’s prayer; a brothel madame violently resisting Sela, and then after 5 years of prayer she amazingly opened up to a relationship and let Sela in to meet the other women; a young joyful 12 year old girl who was one day sold by her mother to a foreigner for sex one night; the young girl who pleaded to Sela that she was ready to try to escape the brothel, but since the board at that time was dysfunctional, they wouldn’t release funds for aid and Sela found out the next week the girl had hung herself; when one women was pregnant and tried to abort her baby, and the only way should wouldn’t do it is if Sela would adopt the baby. Sela ended up adopted what ended up being twin baby boys.

The more I got to know Sela, the more I realized that as we walked through the red light district, we were literally walking in the shadow of her miracle, the fruit of her harvest. It was one of my greatest honors so far in my life.

Where is the hope?

I’ve been processing for a long time. Or perhaps avoiding the process.

It’s hard to not have answers. It’s hard to deal with your own humanity. It’s hard to take a good, long look at darkness.

Because sometimes you’re afraid that what you find is that things are a lot more complex, a lot more worse, and a lot more hopeless that you thought.

I’ve been thinking…

I think that’s about where we need to arrive. To let ourselves be overcome because it’s that point where we find the limits of our own selves.

The natural runs out.

The supernatural can rush in.

I think that’s why it’s good for me to be in this space. The “impossible” space. Where I can’t be the savior or the hope of the world. Because if it were possible, I’m pretty sure I’d believe that I could solve all the world’s problems in a day. Really, I’m that self-sustainable.

But that’s not life. And it’s not reality.

Reality is there’s so much space of uncertainty, of questions that have no answers, of searching for what you may never really find.

And that’s ok.

Being fully aware of my limited scope reminds of the unlimited power of the One who can save the world, who has saved the world, and who is on the move to make all things new.

It’s hard to be the one that steps into darkness and then leaves, “getting” to be the person who talks about it and not stick around to create the frontline solution.

It’s hard to be the reader, to only hear and listen to devastation of lives that are so far removed from our own reality, being a “sharer” instead of practical hand.

But, we really do need all of us. All the gifts. All the perspectives.

Being present with uncomfortable problems is a mature thing to do. It says, “I’m sticking with this until we find breakthrough. I’m not going to quit. I’m not going anywhere.”

So you and I don’t have to be in India to be present. That’s the beauty of prayer. That’s the beauty of the Church. We’re in it together. We can talk, and share, and present, and think, and pray. And it really is all valuable.

Especially that prayer piece.

Prayer means we get to be present in sorrow — we can lament and hurt with those who labor under the grief of injustice as if we were right next to them in person.

Prayer means we get to be present in solutions — we can create and hope in prayer for something or someone to be that answer, even if we never get to do it ourselves.

Social justice need never be selfish. Just because we can’t travel or live in front of issues doesn’t mean we don’t get to be involved. Because since when was it all about us?

It’s hard to post an Instagram photo about the years of prayer for the brothel children to be set on a path of freedom and hope. But those 350 followers will sure see that white face with the brown ones in a visible sign of “good-doing.”

Yeah, on a scale of 1-to-who-cares, it’s off the charts.

So my takeaway from the India trip?

Let’s love from afar, and pray like someone’s life depends on it.

Because it really does.

Let’s talk about Refugees


My dear friends.

How can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?

My brothers, my sisters.

Don’t let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith.

How does this plays out in our lives?

For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you say to the rich person, “Sit here, sir, this is the best seat in the house!” and either ignore the street person or say, “Better sit here in the back row,” haven’t you segregated God’s children and proved that you are judges who can’t be trusted? Doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?

Listen to me, my dear friends.

Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him?

But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it clear by now that God operates quite differently? He chose the world’s down-and-out as the kingdom’s first citizens, with full rights and privileges. This kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God. And here you are abusing these same citizens!


Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and who use the courts to rob you blind? Isn’t it the high and mighty who exploit you? Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ?   Aren’t they the ones who scorn your name,—“Christian”?

What if you twist the Golden Rule?

You do well when you complete the Royal Rule of the Scriptures: “Love others as you love yourself.” But if you play up to these so-called important people, you go against the Rule and stand convicted by it.

If you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You can’t pick and choose in these things, specializing in keeping one or two things in God’s law and ignoring others.

Talk and act like a person expecting to be judged by the Rule that sets us free. There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.

Kind mercy wins over harsh judgment every time.


We can’t claim the Faith without exhibiting generosity.

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it?

For instance, you come upon a person dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit! I’ll pray for you!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you?

Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?

So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, “Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.” Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful?

Yeah, that’s just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands? Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

Wasn’t our ancestor Abraham “made right with God by works” when he placed his son Isaac on the sacrificial altar? Isn’t it obvious that faith and works are yoked partners, that faith expresses itself in works? That the works are “works of faith”? You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete.

It’s that mesh of believing and acting that got Abraham named “God’s friend.”

Rahab the prostitute is another example. Wasn’t her action in hiding God’s spies and helping them escape—that seamless unity of believing and doing—what counted with God?

See, the very moment you separate body and spirit, you end up with a corpse.

Separate faith and works and you get the same thing: a dead corpse.

~Excerpt from chapter 2 of the Book of James, the Apostle of Jesus Christ. Translations NLT and MSG

Casting our votes: what we’re willing to fight over

Donald Trump is an incompetent liar.

Hillary is a shady crook.

Human trafficking is the greatest evil of our time. 


I’ve been analyzing a data set. Granted, it’s my own and from the results of my own posts and writings, so not a wide array of information. Nevertheless, I am aware of when I write a blog or post articles on my social media which ones get the most traffic and interest.

It’s become clear to me that comments, likes, and clicks are like votes. Each time we comment, like, or click, it’s a vote showing where our heart cares most. When we are elated and celebratory, we cast a vote. When we are offended and threatened, we cast a vote. That’s what comments and likes do. They show everyone where you spend your votes, what rules your heart.

Now I struggle with this, because as a writer it’s become increasingly clear what topics stir the pot — which opinions brings out the masses. Having access to that data, I have to consciously decide to not pursue numbers and to stick to topics that have lasting impact, the ones that are near to my heart. Every time I post something to my blog, I pray it influences just one person for good, and that’s enough, because otherwise the numbers become addicting.

But I can’t help but notice the overwhelming amounts of feedback and comments I get when I post something related to politics. Or something that may be interpreted as “political.” It’s crazy — people start doing odd things, like writing me emails, sending messages, or even calling me. If I were in business, I would be like, “I definitely found the market!”

But I have a problem with this.

Let’s go back to those introductory phrases above. One is negative towards Trump, the other towards Hillary. The thing is, my social network is pretty much split over these 2 people. Some hate one, some hate the other.

Posting something related to either of these two individuals evoke an visceral emotional reaction from, it seems, everybody. And I hear “You’re right on!” or “You’re a stupid head!

Yet for each one political post I throw on social media, I have probably shared at least 10 articles and posts talking about the realities of sex trafficking. The plight of the poor. The exploitation of the vulnerable. The lost without a home.


How children in our neighborhoods are secretly being sex trafficked.

How pornography is the fuel for the massive sex trafficking economy.

How men, women, and children are literally sold as slaves in “slave-free” countries.

How sexual assault, abuse and discrimination are rampant towards all women, including myself.

And there is nary a word in response.

Slim votes. Minor care.

After seeing all the quick and lively comments and conversation about politics, I’m sitting here thinking, “Where did all you guys go??”

Why is it we are so passionate about defending (and defeating) political positions, and yet can not have that same passion towards fellow human beings? To my own network I say, why so enthralled by majoring on the minors? You show up to “Amen” a post that affirms your political stance, or, to the other, show up to discredit the incompetence of the same post, but when it comes to things that really matter, it’s all silent on the home-front?

You’re casting your votes, showing your colors.

And I really don’t know why. I want to assume it’s because we feel too vulnerable to actually show care for sensitive topics like trafficking on open social media platforms. Or perhaps we’re just vastly unaware. I don’t know why — I just see the votes.

And I’ve been there, and still feel the pull. The gut-reaction to make sure someone is set right and knows the real truth of the matter. But I normally end up walking away feeling . . . like I wasted a lot of time and effort for something that had no tangible results (besides pitting someone against me, of course).

I’m reminded of Isaiah 58, one of the chapters in the Bible that has literally been the most transformative ones in my life. The first half is a rebuke to the religious performance of “good” people, who I’m sure had really solid, air-tight opinions:

“On your day of fasting you do as you please and exploit your workers, and it ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do and expect your voice to be heard on high.”

God then transitions to talk about the fast, the life of faith, that he directly calls us to:

“This is the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice, to see the oppressed free and break every chain. Is it not to share your food with the hungry and the provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked to clothe them? If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness.”

That’s the life I want, the life I’ve been pursing, one that is more action and less talk. But I’ve had to question things recently: do my friends, do the people in my life, seek this out as well? Who is in my circle? Those who will stand in the gap for the oppressed, or those who will point fingers and quarrel?

What are my friends voting for, and is that what I choose to surround myself with?

I think that’s why more and more I like spending time with the poor. They seem to see things a bit more clearly and aren’t concerned with winning arguments because they are just trying to live. Also, many are some of the most giving, generous people I’ve ever met. They inspire me.

Because if all we can do is defend a position, we have missed everything in life. We become troll junkies, looking for the next comment thread fix to satisfy our insatiable need of being right.

If I can suggest something, try love and ridiculous generosity. It is much harder to do. And more rewarding.

I dare you.

Where has all the honor for women gone?

It’s was a beautiful, sunny day in Glen Ellyn,

a west Chicago suburb. This place is a homey town and completely fun for exploring and enjoyment. It was a perfect place to meet up with a friend for lunch.

This was a month ago, a time when my outreach leader and I have our quarterly meeting where we talk about what’s going on in the Chicago world of human trafficking, sharing how our teams are doing, and speaking words of encouragement. I always look forward to it.

This specific time I was also meeting someone from Craigslist who I was selling a tablet to. While we were waiting for our food, he texted me that he had arrived at the cafe and was standing outside. I excused myself and walked out the front door, unsure of which sidewalk to walk down first.

I turned right, walking past several tables of people on lunch breaks enjoying the nice weather. I had only walked a few steps and didn’t see anyone yet, so I turned quickly to look the other way.

That’s when I saw an entire table of men watching me, just feet away. It seemed that conversation had ceased for the moment, and collectively, they were staring, gawking, at me. And they were definitely not looking at my face.

Immediately all my senses went on high alert as I quickly turned the other way and walked away, noticing my Craigslist contact. While we were doing the exchange, I was overwhelmed with a myriad of emotions.





I was hoping I could hide somewhere, perhaps find another way to go inside the cafe, but that was the only entrance. I walked past them again, trying not to look. Trying not to care.

But I was completely shaken. And it wasn’t as if this reaction was completely thought through and I had decided, “You know, this isn’t a good situation and that behavior isn’t right, so I should feel afraid, angry, and embarrassed.”

No, my reaction was involuntary it seemed. And it bothered me. And though I couldn’t process at that moment, I realized later as I drove home why this situation bothered and scared me so much.

You see, it wasn’t just one man doing that.

No, that happens all the time. I have to say I’m semi-used to it now. I know how to manage my emotions when it happens and am constantly aware of myself, knowing that if I had to protect myself from one man, I would. Like 2 days after this situation: I was walking home from Trader Joes and a man came out of a restaurant, and right after we passed cordial hellos he went on to stop and mentally undress me, all while trying to keep small talk, not once looking at my eyes. While it disturbed me, I knew all I had to do was keep walking, making sure he wasn’t following me, because, you never know. . .

But this was different. And it was more disturbing.

You see, every man at that table collectively and silently agreed that there was no dishonor  in all of them shamelessly gawking, as if I were some sort of prey.

That causes me despair, not just because I didn’t feel safe anymore, not just because I couldn’t know which guy only does this in his head and which one will act on it, but because they are middle and upper class business men.

These are the men I work alongside every single day. They blend in perfectly to the society. Because, so it seems, every typical business man looks just like them. Well-dressed, have families, have good jobs, basically respectable.

Yet the reality is that I stand in front of them and give presentations and try to sell myself on my skill and intellect, knowing that I have to work as hard as I can to overcome the initial sexual appeal I seem to offer and have simply because I am a woman.

I remember what I wore that day, I dress I loved wearing and one that friends loved as well. And I find it saddening that my first reaction in this situation was, “Is it because of what I’m wearing? Is it because the way I am?”

Because when denigrated, I, along with our culture, always seem to ask first, “What did you do wrong?” And my greatest fear is standing up in court one day to defend myself in a sexual assault case and hearing the judge ask me, “So, what were you wearing?”

I was burning so much after that incident I decided to write this blog post. But then I didn’t. I was too afraid, it was just too embarrassing. Trying to explain objectifying culture based off this one experience? A little too risky.

But then, after this past weekend, I realized that there was more at risk here then my own vulnerabilities. There are many countless women who have gone through unspeakable tragedies at the expense of a surrounding culture that says, “It’s OK and normal to dishonor women because, you know, boys will be boys.” It has forced me to think deeper about this, about my own experiences.

And bring back realities of more than one experience. As I lay in bed a few nights ago, dwelling on the pervasiveness of this issue, I recalled an experience I had completely forgotten about for years.

I was a junior in college

and working part-time off campus to have some money to live on. It was a decent job and a good way to encounter the real work world.

I was roaming the aisles helping customers when a fellow classmate walked in. Though he had been in a small class with me the previous semester, I didn’t particularly know him too well. I remember us praying for him in class for a missions trip that he was going on overseas.

It was kind of crowded in the shop and we were both trying to get through the same aisle. Instead of backing up, I leaned against the counter to let him pass by. And as he did he grabbed my butt. And then kept on walking.

It was as if my body revolted against myself and I felt like throwing up. I ran into a section that was secluded and silently screamed into my hand. I was shaking, catching my breath, and angry as hell. It was as if every created emotion hit me all at once and my anxiety was over the top. I didn’t know what to do. I visualized myself going outside, where he now was, and kicking him as hard as I could. Maybe punching him in the face.

But . . . could I really do that?

Then the questions came. Was it that big of a deal? Would I be able to defend myself against the questions that would follow? Was it worth the shame? In my head, me admitting to him doing that was saying that there was something about me that cause him to do it.

At least, that’s what I was thought, perhaps what I was taught.

I grew up in a conservative Christian culture and my college was exactly that. In that world, there’s a high standard for dress, especially for females. I was taught that girls dressing inappropriately caused guys to stumble. And based off the fact that I got in trouble since puberty for immodesty (I’m tall and there’s more “of” me so that automatically brought more attention), I knew that the first question I would be asked if I tried to make any claims would be, “So, what were you wearing? Can you put that on? We’ll make a decision about this case after you do that.”

In that moment in the hidden corner of the store, I processed none of that completely. But intuitively, based off how I knew the world worked, I knew that my only decision to save myself from shame would be to do . . . nothing. Just work as hard as I can to forget it. Which I did. Until this past weekend.

Somehow telling the story removes it’s power. And I also realize now that to not call sexual assault by it’s name, is to allow that same guy to continue doing that same thing to more and more women. Except now, 7 years later, if he’s never been called out for it, who knows what he could be doing now. There’s a price we pay for silence. It’s a double-edged sword: we females risk our shame for talking, and we also risk continue abuse if we don’t. Somehow, we’re the ones that seem to always lose.

Thought I didn’t understand it at the time, I was sexually assaulted. That is wrong, and that is illegal.

But at that time? I sadly wasn’t entirely sure whose fault it was.

As I lay in bed reliving that whole situation, I thought, “I wonder how many unquestioned ‘guy talk’ sessions, how many hours of approved sexual conversations did he participate in before he felt the boldness to act on those words, to a girl he didn’t even know?”

Two years later I was in graduate school.

I had finished my first year and was taking a trip with my friend to get away at the beach. I was on a short flight and sat next to this guy who was probably my age, maybe slightly older. His friends in the back of the plane were rowdy and loud, probably intoxicated, but he was sober and rolled his eyes at their antics.

We didn’t have much conversation, but near the end of the flight he asks me a few questions about myself and my hobbies. He was kind of expressive and dramatic, so it was slightly funny listening to his stories.

Then out of nowhere he looks at my chest and says, “By the way, you have very nice breasts.”

I was so shocked, and I looked directly back at him and said with a dead-stare, “That was completely unnecessary.”

What was so interesting about this situation was how utterly shocked he was at my reaction, as if I should have been empowered and thankful for his open gratitude for my body.

He looked out the window and said, “Oh look, we’re about to land!” And then turned away from me the rest of the trip, obviously very uncomfortable.

My reaction? After wading through the myriad of emotions, the fear, the anger, the shame, everything. . . I again start feeling bad for standing up to him. I’m serious people. I felt like I had been mean to him, maybe there was a different way I should’ve handled it.

I had complete confusion about who was the one that should be embarrassed right now.

It was becoming a pattern, the ones most embarrassed are not the ones speaking these words and doing these acts.

If they’re not ashamed, if they see not problem with it, then is it . . . normal?

Though I didn’t realize it then, I was sexually harassed. That is wrong, and that is illegal.

Three years ago,

well after grad school and into the beginning of my work career, I found myself in a relationship that was an entire lie. His life revolved around exploiting people for his benefit. Work, relationships, community – you name it.
And I myself was in the center of it, one of his women living in one of his lives.

Though it was only a few months, I remember being in a lot of confusion and many days of experiencing self-loathing and disrespect. He literally knew how to make me feel terrible for who I was, and then be the hero who rescued me from that.

It’s pretty twisted, and not normal. And it’s what is psychologically known as a Narcissist. We throw around the term a lot, as if someone is a narcissist if they are just a selfish, self-absorbed person. That is only a partial definition. A Narcissist is a person with true distorted reality, where they are always the victim and always the hero. They live manipulation and find vulnerable people to be their conquests. So, be careful on how you use that term. It does not apply to every annoying selfish person out there.

As you can probably guess, living in this world causes a good amount of damage and plenty of emotional wounds.

When I finally got out, it was as if a light was turned on and I knew right away who he was because it was the exact profile of pimps and traffickers — he was just not that far down the path of evil yet. I just never thought someone like that could fool me.

But you know what? It actually took going through that to finally stand up for myself, to finally believe I wasn’t worth being dishonored.

I couldn’t play with fire anymore. I couldn’t awkwardly laugh at the kinda-crude jokes. The locker room chat, the boys will be boys acts, the eye staring . . . the whole culture that shrugs as it as “not really that bad” gives room for these kind of guys to exist, and live freely as they please.

Because they know they’ll never be questioned. I know, because I tried to. I tried to assert my beliefs, and he always had a sob story for his actions and life.

During this time I found out one of my friends had been raped many times over the course of 9 months. When it was all said and done, her abuser would not see a day in jail because the (in)justice system believed she “asked for it,” though it was simply her way of surviving and protecting herself, which is common in sexual assault cases.

Also during this time I remember having a managers meeting with the CEO and GM of our company. He was enthusiastically teaching us about client engagement and treatment. He decided to use an example: “Hey (manager), what would you do if you were at a bar and you saw a gorgeous girl you wanted to get laid with?

After a moment of tethered anticipation from the team, he exclaimed “You compliment her!” The GM laughed along. “Or, you know, give her some money.” Yes, that was their best  way of explaining how to win customers over.

I was so lost in that moment, because these were people I knew and trusted. So, maybe this is just . . . the way it is? I guess maybe all guys are like that? It was hard to process, truly.

So after I came out of the other side in that toxic relationship, and started being more aware to my world around me, I realized that, no, it is not OK for you to treat me like this, or anyone else. In fact, no guy should be like that. I was furious I had been so deceived, and, as I came to realize, deceived for years. Deceived into believing that it’s acceptable to put up with behavior like that, whether in speech or actions.

I learned that abusive, manipulative behavior requires complete cut-off. For me to even vaguely stay friends would’ve communicated approval and opportunity for this to happen again. Yes, I forgave him. No, I did not keep friendship. Oh yes, he verbally repented and expressed sorrow, and I still walked away and I will not allow him back in my life.

Do you know why? Because true repentance requires sacrifice. It means loss. And he could never give up himself or his wants.

It was tempting. It was tempting to believe him when he said, “Well, we’re all sinners and what I did was terrible, so I’m asking God for forgiveness and I want you back because I know you’re a good, Christian, forgiving girl.”

It was through that experience that I found my calling, my whole calling.

I knew I was supposed to care for broken women and lead them into business, but now I had something I never had before: empathy. I knew how easy it was to get into that situation, and how hard it was to leave, and how broken your life is afterwards.

I also know that while God did not cause me that traumatic experience, He has redeemed it so beautifully. I was in long enough to feel the real pain, and He gave me freedom to use that experience to be a voice for others, to be a bridge of freedom. It’s led me into standing next to victims of sex trafficking and leading them to a new path and life.

Because this work and my own experiences, I’ve seen the dark side of potty-mouth language. The end of that road is death. It creates a safe passage for workers of evil, and inexplicable fear for it’s victims.


I found that not only were other men dishonoring me, but I eventually started dishonoring myself, with either silence or verbally laughing along. We females eventually, day by day, one unquestioned crude remark after another, start subconsciously believing that maybe this is the world we live in, and there’s nothing else to do but play that game and hope we don’t get hurt.

This is not all dark and despairing.

I’m thankful for bright sides, for good experiences, for men of valor. Some who may not blog, who may not speak, but live each day proclaiming honor to women around them by their consistent interest, respect and care for our souls, minds, and hearts.

2 weeks ago I met a man at church who I played softball with this past summer and we started chatting about business. Eventually I told him about the work I do in anti-trafficking. After speaking passionately about it for several minutes, Jeff says, “Wow, so what can I as a man do to help?”

My eyes got big, and I said, “Really?!” I wanted to hug him! My surprise was obvious, and I really didn’t know what to say. When was the last time a successful business man asked if he could help a cause where typically men were exploiting? Normally I just get sighs of sympathy.

It makes me sit a little higher, be a little more confident, when men stand up to actively protect women.

As I looked through my Facebook feed last weekend, I saw a post my friend Quantas wrote his thoughts in response to the recent display of sexual assault:

This makes me think of how much further we, as a society, need to progress to in how we treat women. The misogynistic, hyper masculinity, and overbearing patriarchy that was evident in his “locker room banter” has held women back for far too long. I know I’ve been complicit and an active participant in regarding women as less than equals, less than capable, and less than worthy of due respect.

It’s sad to see how half of our society has been held back from reaching their potential for most of mankind’s existence. It’s heartbreaking to think of how we’ve silenced women, treated them like objects, and held them up to impossible double standards. I’m on a mission to do better and call out others who don’t properly value women, be they male or female.

And that’s really all we want, to be treated as a person, not an object of temptation.

As I was growing and healing from my relationship with my ex, I was learning more and more what it meant to respect myself and understand my own inherent worth, no matter what anyone else said. A year ago I dated a friend for a few months who by example helped me understand these things better. While my ex was the epitome of disrespect, James was the complete opposite, the example of respect and honor for all people, including all women. It was a bit unusual to observe from up close, but I needed to see this “new normalcy” in live action.

I remember once, in a completely thoughtless moment, I made a somewhat suggestive comment about myself and how he probably thinks of me like that. He was immediately deadly serious as he said, “I don’t think like that.” It made me double-take, catching me by surprise. You mean I shouldn’t think of myself that way? And you don’t either? This was unusual for sure.

As I look back now, I realize that I was still having low expectations for honor from men. But not only that, I myself was placing disrespect on myself, that I was the sum worth of my body.

Him taking a stand like that for himself openly pronounced three things: “I am not disrespectful of you, I will not dishonor you, and you are worth more.”

And now, here I am, 29 years old, and finally “getting it,” that maybe I’m worth being honored both to my face and behind my back. That maybe I have disrespected my own self many years because I thought that was the only way to get by and be liked. That maybe not all men think of women as sexual objects. That maybe our culture can one day be a place where I can confidently stand in front of a room of men and be naturally respected for my mind and humanity.

A word to women

I’ve heard over and over these phrases: “That’s just the way it is,” and “I’m sure all guys talk like that,” and “This is all so hypocritical, trying to condemn someone’s actions and just look at our popular music — I’m not going to do anything.”

And then the overwhelming majority of us that simply sigh, “Why are we even surprised?”

To that I say,

When will you be surprised?


At what point will you allow yourself to be shocked?

Will it be when you hear your coworkers talking about the new secretary and who will be the first to get laid with her? Will it be when your 10 year old daughter comes to you and tell you about a man that touched her? Will it be when you find out your friend and neighbor was raped? Will it be when you realize a sex trafficking ring is being led out of a massage parlor 2 blocks from your house and they openly market that “young beautiful girls” are now working? Will it be when you learn of the child being sex trafficked in your subdivision?

To what is your response to these sisters of yours? Would you actually say them, “Well, you shouldn’t be surprised”?

Of course not, I hope. I hope you’d be shocked and surprised. But that’s the end of this road. Crude, disrespectful language + approved time = exploitation of women, of you, of your daughters, of your sisters, of your mothers.

Please, by all means, be surprised! Don’t lose the shock, even if it happens 100,000 times to you. Be outraged. Don’t be discouraged by the hypocrisy and have the courage to feel and love right through it.

It’s hard. It’s not popular and you may be thought of as “one of those emotional females.” But for us to be silent is to agree that it’s OK to speak or act in sexually objectifying ways.

You know what I think? I think we’ve lost our way. I think we’ve lost the purity of the Image of God we were made to be. It’s muddy and unclear, we’re subtlety told day after day, relationship after relationship, that we’re the problem. And the only way through it is to exchange the dishonor for power where we now use our bodies to get men to do what we want. By accepting dishonor and it’s cheap power, we in turn become the ones who now dishonor another.

You’re worth more. You are not a body, but a soul. Your freedom and empowerment comes from within, not without. You do not have to disrobe to be free.

I invite you — take the road less traveled by and search out your true value that is not tied to a person, an income, a compliment, a body type, or a life stage. It’s in one Person, and He will leave you completely whole.

A word to men

Value women.

Verbally. Actionly. Thoughtfully.

I remember after breaking up with my ex that I sat with my brothers and their friends and told them, “Please, just hang out with some girls and let them know what it means to be treated right. Because so many of us don’t know what that looks like.”

Set aside your ego and express heart-felt admiration that has no objective other than to be genuine. Obviously, you can do this to men or women. But if you notice that a female in your community or circle is good at something, tell her so. If she has expressed a certain gifting, applaud that in front of other people. Let her know that men in her life (who have no romantic interest in her) care about her well-being and development in your community.

Also, let a woman lead you. Ask her for her advice, or an explanation on how to do something. Take a course from a female. Read a book by a woman author. Prove your non-bias by seeing if you can do some of these things without criticism and with encouragement.

Because your verbal statements about caring and valuing women are only believed when you actually act on them.

Lastly, realize that my story isn’t all that unique. Leave space in your conversations to allow women who have been sexually discriminated, abused, groped, or hurt to feel safe with you.

And you know what else that means? Not defending and standing with other men or women who discriminate, abuse, grope or hurt females.

You know, we’re listening. And for every defense of misbehavior, our barrier goes up a notch, and we know you would never be someone who would defend and protect us if we were the ones in court due to assault, having to answer the judge’s questions, “So what were you wearing?”

I look forward to the future.

I hope my daughters one day don’t have to face the same world I do because of my openness and willingness to challenge this culture. I think that’s why I find it worth it in the long run, because this is the most difficult post I’ve ever written.

I also pray for spiritual amnesia and innocence, that what was lost can be regained.

I also hope that each new  story I hear from a survivor of trafficking isn’t just old news, that trafficking is never normalized. I hope to be a bridge to the freedom that God has for them.

There’s always hope. Each morning there can be purity of spirit and fresh joy. Redemption makes that possible, and that’s always our next step.

All this violence has got me bothered

I think it’s pretty ironic

That those of us never afflicted by violence

Are sick of it

And, you know, just so completely


Can the warring African countries just get it together,

Can South-siders just stop with the gun killing,

Can the drug addicted mothers stop prostituting and abusing their children,

Can a couple of rogue cops stop making America look so bad,

Can the Syrians just figure it out and stay where they are,

Because right now we are just too


Of the pain.

The discomfort and struggle

Of hearing of loss,

Of seeing people shot,

Of watching bombs destroy

So uncomfortable

From our stadium leather seats at the nightly news theater.

Right now we can’t have any peace

Because we are so disturbed by observing the gladiator games

From the sidelines.

So Bothered.

All of a sudden the world started mattering to us

When our presumed perimeters ceased feeling safe

So we must simply build higher walls

To protect the pure race

Bullet-proof, noise-silencer, eye-censored

To make sure we aren’t so


We say, “Oh dear Lord Jesus come!”

And they say, “Oh won’t someone come!”

And Jesus says, “I’ve told them to come.”

When the privilege of safety and freedom

Becomes a defensive weapon, then we create


When the privilege of family sleeping well and full in our homes

Becomes a guarded, unshared right, then we create


One privilege a blessing, the other Privilege a curse.

For cursed is the one whose walls are bigger than their tables.

For many of us, though, who sit in a safe middle

The “kinda sorta maybe that’s not right” crowd

Need an outlet to be proud

Of joining an action-less word-fight against evil.

Because, of course, we can’t be outright distant

That would be criminal.

So we create taglines of mercy

#heartbrokenforParis, #prayforOrlando, #SyrianRefugeeCrisis

#Furguson #PhilandoCastile #PrayforCharleston

Mere empty gifts of windy sympathy.

Real compassion requires loss

Each action a cross, your soul sacrifice

Because a heart broken is more than a token word spoken

In a digital press of unaccountability.

So keep hating the pain you don’t even feel

Keep decrying the bombs that don’t shake your home

Cover your eyes and ears

And pray for the Lord to come

And safe passage into heaven.

Where thank God we won’t be so



So now what?

We all typically have 2 kinds of resources:



Both require sacrifice when it’s used outside of our own wants and needs. But to not use either speaks louder than any hashtag. However, using one of your true resources will go a lot farther in partnering with Goodness in the fight against Evil.

Choose a cause. Choose your resource. Combine the two and incite some real movement and change.

Syrian Refugee Crisis

World Relief – They have Good Neighbor programs and other refugee assistance opportunities that I’ve seen to truly make a difference and help hurting people. http://www.worldrelief.org/refugee-crisis

Read: Seeking Refuge: On the shores of the Global Refugee Crisis by Stephan Bauman

Police brutality and Black Lives Matter

Unless our public servants are held accountable to same laws and repercussions of justice as each citizen is, then our justice system will continue to silently encourage the mistreatment and killing of our black brothers and sisters.

Equal Justice Initiative is doing excellent work to defend the lives of innocent black lives and to change the injustice within the legal system. http://eji.org/

Also, google “Protest police brutality in [your city]” or just ask one of your black friends how they think you should go about protesting in the community.

Read: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Violence, poverty, and unemployment

Poverty is complex. Which is why it takes many perspectives and intellect to solve one problem at a time, empower one person at a time.

Compassion – They sponsor children to break the cycle of poverty and give communities new opportunities. http://www.compassion.com/

World Vision – They do development around the world to give fresh water, sponsor children, create jobs, and develop communities. http://www.worldvision.org/our-work

Entrenuity is a Chicago-based entrepreneurship program that helps minorities and disadvantaged start businesses and rebuild local economies. http://www.entrenuity.com/

Read: When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett

Watch: The Hidden Reason For Poverty The World Needs To Address Now, TED talk by Gary Haugan

Human trafficking

New research shows that 47 million people are enslaved today. That’s outrageous given the fact that slavery is illegal globally. While still gaining awareness momentum, most cities, states and countries have non-profits combating this atrocity.

International Justice Mission – The largest anti-slavery organization in the world. https://www.ijm.org/

Not For Sale – Works in the US and global communities to end trafficking and also assist in job readiness and business development. https://www.notforsalecampaign.org/

ReadGod in a Brothel by Daniel Walker

WatchNefarious Merchant of Souls, exposing the disturbing trends of modern-day sex slavery

Eyes wide open and totally blind: what do we do when we wear human slavery?

“I couldn’t find my son.”

The father, crouched down and half-sitting in what looked like an incredibly uncomfortable position, spoke in a long-burning anguish.

3 years earlier he had lost his little boy.

The son had been playing outside the last time his mother saw him. Next thing she knew, he disappeared. No trace, no sign. His father, away at work, came home immediately to begin searching frantically.

The area, the woods, the neighbors, the nearby villages — none of them had seen his son.

Days turned into months that stretched into years.

“I felt like I was going mad. My wife seemed to be going mad as well. We couldn’t find him anywhere.”

The camera began panning the area, their home village in western India, showing the depth of poverty and the obvious the lack of food and clothing.

Yet even so, their dignity is loud and clear, despite being so poor. They understand that not everything that costs money brings happiness.

They know what’s valuable — the value of their sons and daughters.

The one thing they hold near and dear costs no money and is really their most prized possession — their children. Birthed in love, living testimonies of their own lives. That is the real treasure they carry.

Yet how cruel that these possessions that are the center of their worlds are live targets. Targets by those who live for greed and exploitation for their own gains.

No, it’s not the money, not the beans, not the farm animals they want.

That son. That’s who the slave traders want.

Humans, unlike drugs or other material possessions, can be bought, sold and used many times over the course of a lifetime.

If you want to have a financially successful career, human slavery is the most ludicrous industry yet.

This boy, one of the 27 million, lost his life and freedom and became one of those numbers. Stolen away and transported on a two-day journey south of their village in India, he was enslaved in the Indian carpet belt where 16 millions pounds of carpets go to the UK alone every year.

And he was only 6 years old.

To some, that age means he is vulnerable and meant to be cared for and protected.

To others, that age means he is an opportunity for many more years of gain and wealth.

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What is slavery?

In this documentary, Slavery: A Global Investigation, they described slavery as being “locked away, held against their will, and enforced by violence.”

And in this specific region where this boy was kidnapped, there are over 4000-5000 children missing.

5000 stories.

5000 parents on the verge of madness out of grief.

5000 innocent eyes.

5000 little creative hands.

Slavery targets the poor.

Why? Because nobody cares.

Typically, only the poor care for each other. And yet they can’t afford to act on all the care they carry and find resources to ensure justice for their lives.

Nobody in the city or world scene would notice if they’re gone.

It should not be surprising when silent voices are silenced.

Exploitation is simply silencing voices until they are no more.

Silence though is perspective. The poor already have voices — and real, valuable ones. Perhaps we say, “I never heard them!” And Jesus says, “Don’t be surprised — the poor you will always have with you. Listen to them.”

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What slavery looks like

I watched in awe at the awful revelations. Children tied to carpet looms. Forced to work for 14 hours a day. Beaten for slowing down or speaking up. Never allowed to leave the building. They had to urinate from the rooftop.

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And they are beautiful rugs, for sure. Perhaps like this one:

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Of course slave markets don’t make shoddy products. If they did there wouldn’t be any demand for them. No, slave-made products camouflage very well into the world market.

Beautiful but silent.

And that rug — I was planning on buying one like it. A few months ago I was in the middle of fixing up my house, finally buying real furniture. And I could consider myself a thoughtful consumer! I do research, I compare prices, I’m not (that much) compulsive. When I found a rug I really really wanted, I was in the “let me think for a long time before making any impulsive decisions” state.

And it was attractive to me because, well, rugs are expensive and this was one relatively affordable. Geez, for anything decent it seems like you had to pay an arm and a leg.

Until I realized that some do pay an arm and leg.

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A few days later I walked away from the film, enlightened but trying oh-so-hard to resist. But I really need this rug! I can’t afford a “socially responsible” rug.

I looked up the specs. My rug was made in India. Then I would see this boy’s face, the dirty floor in the loom room where he worked, the 3 years of life he lost in order to make my floor for the next several years attractive.

I had to find out.

Maybe my rug was good to go. But I wanted to at least try to find out. So I contacted people. I contacted Wayfair, a company I have purchased from before and who had claims to my desired rug. I had no idea how and if they would respond, but this is what I wrote:

Good morning, I have recently made several purchases from Wayfair, of which I’ve been very satisfied. I have been planning on purchasing a rug here and I noticed that it is made in India. I am involved with anti-trafficking efforts in Chicago and will soon be going to Nepal/India to work with women and children who have been trafficked, and I’ve become aware of the pervasiveness of child slavery in the carpet looms of India. I looked on your site to try to find if there was evidence that these rugs are made with social responsibility, but I could not find it anywhere. Before I purchase I want to know where the rugs were bought  and that there has been research conducted to ensure that fair wage and labor have gone into the making of your rugs.

And here was their reply:

Hi Angela, This rug is shipped directly from the manufacturer, NuLoom. Regrettably they were not able to provide me with any credentials regarding social responsibility nor was I able to discover anything about them, one way or the other, online. We do not require the manufacturers we work with to be socially responsible, although we obviously would prefer it if they were. Given the lack of information on NuLoom, perhaps you would prefer to purchase a rug that is manufactured by Jaipur Rugs? They are socially responsible as indicated here, and SKU JCJ1645 is similar to the NuLoom rug you are looking at.


Notice I used the words child slavery, and they used the words socially responsible.

Notice that they don’t require their manufacturers to be socially responsible.

And that’s when I realized having a product made that was socially responsible, a product made without slavery, is a nice option at best.

I read this email and was drawn back in thought. I looked out the window, distracted by the view of the Sears Tower from my cozy chair (that I ironically bought from Wayfair). The linen curtains I recently purchased gently blew in the wind and I was reminded how much I love their color and simplicity.

My eye caught the tag. I reached down and held it closer: “Made in India.”

Ah! Curtains too??

Again, the same email but this time to CB2 (Create and Barrel). And this has repeated several times as I’ve started to purchase an item yet realized it was made in an area where an over-abundance of slavery exists. I’m like, “Do I freaking have to go through my whole house?!?”

Once you see something, you can’t unsee it.

We could take this down all sorts of paths. For instance, why do I insist on buying the cheapest product? So that I can have a higher margin to live on. If I have $20 I could spend all of it on an IMAX movie showing…. or I can go to the cheap David’s theater nearby with the broken seats, but I can see a movie AND go out afterwards for late night dinner.

I am no economics expert, but I learned that economics is simply decision making. And here’s the decision now before me, a life habit-changing question:

I can buy an inexpensive product that is cheapened due to free forced labor and have more to spend on other part of my life.

Or I can buy a slightly more expensive product that paid the person making the product and thus have less to spend on my life.

That is the million dollar question: which one do you value more?

Money. Or people.

Is there anything I can do about human slavery?

I understand — it’s overwhelming. It feels shameful.

But remember this — we will do anything to hide from shame, our own and others. And I think just being aware of that fact will help us to not run but to sit. Sit with the difficulty. And that brings me to my first suggestion:

1. Lament.

Feel deeply and express sorrow over these realities. We’re so quick to jump to solutions that sometimes we forget that grieving is important. That it is proper. That it is honorable.

Lament for what is done and what you can’t fix. Feel empathy without conclusions. It’s one of the most humane, dignified actions you can take.

2. Write emails to the companies you buy most often from.

Since most of what we buy is made overseas, you can assume that there is a possibility that something you own was made as a result of slave labor.

Here are some common industries fueled by slaves, specifically child slaves: chocolate, carpets, bricks, clothing, shrimp, diamonds, cotton, rubber, coal, rice and pornography. 

Will this change slavery in a day? Nope.

Yet would you assume then that means you have no responsibility?

Maybe it’s just me, but I believe that if we consume or use something pretty regularly, then we should at least express some basic intelligence in discovering the origins.

That why I think sending emails is an easy ask and first step. Every company, from corporate to local business, has some sort of customer service email listed on their website. So then you can…

Step 1. Copy and paste that into a new email message.

Step 2. Write a subject line, like, “Question.”

Step 3. Write a few sentences explaining why you’re emailing: “I’ve been learning more about human slavery in your industry, specifically child slavery. I wanted to know if you know the origins of this product I bought from you [or am thinking to buy from you]. Are your vendors required to conduct social responsibility?”

Step 4. Press send.

And that’s it for now. They may be like Wayfair and say, “We don’t require social responsibility.” Or they may send you detailed reports and regulations of how they enforce fair trade within their organization.

And either way, that may be all you do.

But you might start a conversation in that organization. You might get one other person thinking about what their company does across the ocean.

At the end of the day, we want our corporations to thrive along with the ones that make their products for them.

3. Buy from fair trade companies.

I met the founders of Matano via Instagram where we traded (fairly) thoughts about one of my recent blog posts. I came to learn more about their new start-up and passion for sports apparel that is ethically made. Since this whole fair-trade world was becoming something of a newer discovery for myself, I was encouraged to see other people who didn’t see social responsibility as an option.

It was just a way they desired to live life. And so they decided to bring other people along.

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That’s really all we do. We have values, they turn into passions, and, as the opportunity comes up, it partners with something tangible.

So it’s not just sports clothing.

It’s about free people.

And sports clothing is simply the vehicle.

Back them on Kickstarter, buy one of their items, and or just follow their business. I think we all need active initiators around us who practice and risk for a belief that is way bigger than themselves.

It’s just one company, a few items, and not that much dent in the universe of human slavery.

But this is just one tipping point. And with the combination of many others, perhaps we can make goodness fashionable again.

Additional resources:


Report: List of products used by child labor or forced labor

Brokenness is the secret sauce of compassion

I never quite understood why I am the one doing the things I’m doing.

Yes, I’m typically secretly insecure, conveniently hiding under a layer of, “Of course I can do this and it makes sense and why not? Don’t challenge me.”

More often than not I’ve just tried to ignore and be louder than the suspicious soul voices: “Really? You’re hanging out with homeless guys, prostituted women, survivors of trafficking, recovering addicts, and abused children? Are you serious? You have no idea what they’ve gone through. You’re only naive and condescending. Who do you think you are, some sort of ‘help’?”

Yeah, it’s a slippery slope. Once you begin basing your value on your experiences, those thoughts will remove you from giving and will eventually descend into every other relationship and friendship until one day you’ve completely talked yourself out of being worth anything to anyone.

I’ve fought against giving in to it. Over and over. I didn’t always know why, though. But something in me knew that if I didn’t want others to judge me based on my externals than I couldn’t ever let that filter exist in my life.

But recently I’ve realized that the connection which leads to my compassion comes from a place where shared experiences are completely unnecessary.

If compassion comes from connection, where did that connection come from?

I’ve tried to figure out where everything changed and I started having deeper connection. I had a major spiritual encounter about 5 years ago that challenged my little world and narrow perspective. I knew at that point that I would be seeking out broken people, as I then called them.

Soon enough it wasn’t me going to them anymore; it was them coming to me. Or “random” encounters. Or perhaps just the law of attraction?

At this point it turned into something different, something unexpected. Though I had grown up in churches that did ministries for broken people, it literally offended me when my pastor once asked me, “So how’s your ministry going?” and another couple saying, “You must be really courageous.” I didn’t know why I wanted to react, but part of me wanted to retort, “It’s good – how’s your ministry going?” and “So why aren’t you courageous?” and “This isn’t my ministry; it’s my life and I’m simply friends with the people in my life who happen to be different from me. Why is that a special ministry??”

But I never said that because, obviously, it seemed a little unfair to some well-meaning people. And in its own vein self-righteous.

Yet I still couldn’t figure out why others saw my life as unusual or courageous when I particularly didn’t.

In the past 5 years my friend group has included homeless men and homeschooled guys. Drunks and preachers. Business owners and drug addicts. Strippers and homosexuals. Prostitutes and counsellors. Immigrants and high-end escorts. Missionaries and convicts. Muslims and foreigners. A lot of them I opened my home to or just shared life in general with them.

But I seriously cringe when I just list off categories like that, that somehow we can encapsulate an entire person into one singular label. We are not defined by our life season, our country, our societal culture, or our past record.

Additionally, we are never defined by our worst day or worst choice or worst circumstance.

So when others question my choices, or I question myself, I go back to where it began for me, which was something like, “Wow, you are the kind of person I would like to get to know,” and then as time developed with certain people, specific areas of brokenness surfaced, and that naturally led to opportunities to share life and help out as needed.

Some of those issues became trends. And I found those trends already had a name: social justice.

Then I realized why the so-called “broken culture” was especially drawing to me.

It’s not because they have some extreme external circumstance and it’s “shocking” and I want in on that so I can use their stories to make my life more interesting.

No, that would actually be exploitation of another face.

What I found instead was a common brokenness.

And broken people are attracted to broken people.

It long stopped being “they are broken” and it became “we are broken.”

For so long in my life I didn’t allow myself to be broken because I was ashamed of any internal brokenness or weakness, and for me not being strong was the most vulnerable and threatening place to be (and yes, still is).  So I created a really safe, protected life that never challenged my strength, which was, ironically, my greatest weakness. I was so afraid of being ashamed, of being vulnerable, that I created walls that kept me safe and everyone else out. It worked out pretty well for a long time.

That wall started to crumble when I went through my own depression and rejection which led me to actually feel and process emotions, and that experience caused me to recognize others with those same emotions around me. It’s like I had this new rejection radar and I’d see someone and be like, “You got it too!”

This wasn’t about me fixing them. But it was about us sharing something.

And that’s all, folks.

We don’t need to look for shared experiences or commonalities to find connection. We can simply look for shared brokenness, which is actually shared humanity.

And sharing brokenness transcends all barriers: societal, cultural, denominational, racial… all of that other stuff falls below the reality that we are sharing something much bigger, something much stronger than just “we look alike, believe the same thing, have a similar past, have the same struggles, and grew up in the same place.”

People are not projects and each one has incredible dignity, no matter how much their lives don’t make sense to us.

I’m finding that the ones that have the hardest time relating to others vastly different from themselves are the ones who won’t allow themselves to be broken. Oh, we all have it. It’s all there. It’s just that some people have had to deal with it in the wide open (your “societal broken” ones), and some have then allowed the struggle to make them stronger while still embracing the weakness of their continual brokenness.

Others, however, perhaps never had to fight external pressures and live on the edge of survival. Like me for so long, it created this false sense of self-reliance, that I can do anything, that I can fix myself, that there’s not really much wrong with me, that I’m above the struggle, and everyone needs to settle down about “justice” issues all around us.

Because when we have no awareness of our brokenness, we have no capacity for caring. Our compassion is only as deep as our brokenness.

And brokenness is the secret sauce of compassion.


A friend asked me not too long ago, “How do you get to the place of really caring about people, especially people who have hard lives I really don’t and can’t understand?” It kind of surprised me, though I appreciated her honestly, and I stumbled for words. “I guess, you know, uh, you just have to go through it. Just like they are. Like, you gotta feel that pain, the same kind they feel.”

It took some pretty difficult experiences for me to recognize my own brokenness, but now I wouldn’t change it for the world. I feel like I’ve never felt before. Don’t get me wrong – it’s often not really good, like, I don’t sit around thinking, “Boy, this anguish is incredible. Two. Thumbs. UP!”

No, I just feel things really deeply. And sometimes I do something about it, but sometimes it’s just real to feel. To know that some place inside of me still cares, even if it’s anger and bitterness or hope and joy. It’s all part of the process of letting go of strong-enough and embracing the this-burns-right-now brokenness.

At first I thought this post would be about social justice and not trying to create narratives that certain broken lives mean more than other broken lives, that just because we don’t understand someone’s brokenness doesn’t mean that we can withhold mercy.

But … maybe this is a word about that.

Maybe we can’t separate a fight for justice from the hand of mercy coming from a broken heart of compassion.

Maybe what we need is a lot more of is just mercy.

Where’s your brokenness?

If you can’t find it, then you may just be unaware of it. And you may want to investigate reactions of anger, wanting to control conversations, make sure you are right, and a desire to “do away” with certain people and causes (holla at your girl – been there, done that).

Stepping back and opening up like that will do scary things to you. But soon the things you were so scared of will be forgotten in light of the wonderful people you connect with, people who, by all societal means, you should not be spending your time with. Fear will assault you, as you will hear lingering voices, “Who do you think you are for thinking you have anything to contribute to this person?” Believe me, I live with those voices. But it takes a humble attitude of being needy and broken each day to make it through.

Look for those uncomfortable places. For me it’s been connecting with people and cultures that are way outside of my “experience” realm. I can’t say that I “get it” but I can say I know how it feels to be human (broken), so I can share life with them and feel deeply with them and about them.

When you’re at that place, you’ll be moved to do things most people won’t understand. But that’s OK. I dare you to love too deeply, risk too extravagantly, give too recklessly, and feel too much. It may not be a path that is clear and you may be afraid of what people will think, but the reward is fully alive and well worth each investment.